Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius by Marc Seifer

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a GeniusWizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius by Marc Seifer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nikola Tesla was an amazing man, but this was a mediocre book. It did a good job of presenting Tesla's achievements, debunking myths about his inventions, and showing the reader who he really was. On the flip side, as seems to happen often with biographies, it was too long. Too many pages were spent on back stories of acquaintances, technical details that were not useful to the non-engineer reader, and defending plausible conclusions of the author. Although the latter was the least offensive of the three, it still seemed to go on too long. If there was any content lacking, I would have enjoyed more examples of how our modern-day technology is based on Tesla's research. Not only did I find those examples personally interesting, but they make many of his discoveries more relevant to the reader, which increases engagement.

So in the end I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science and history, and that has a stomach for long drawn out details that are not important to the main story line :)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Sales. Simplified.: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development by Mike Weinberg

New Sales. Simplified.: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business DevelopmentNew Sales. Simplified.: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development by Mike Weinberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 stars. That's all I really need to say. This is not a perfectly written book, and the author has some personal positions and definitions that I don't agree with, but I like his direct and open honesty. It means that this book is chock full of common sense, and isn't beholden to best practice as a limiting factor, but rather states best practice based on experience. It is the kind of book I'd like to write, if I'm ever dumb enough to write a business book. Don't tell me what your corporate training told you to do, and don't tell me what some researcher suggests you do, but tell me what works. What truth have you uncovered through experience?

Just to be clear, I'm not anti-research, but the research based books written by consultants and university professors are a dime a dozen. They range for boring to uninspiring as they try to tell the world what they think they know from observing and analyzing others. That is the differentiator. This book isn't based on any experience but his own. And when you want to question a conclusion, he has ALL the facts about the situation. To put it in academic terms, he has roughly 100% of the data of his experience, not a statistically significant number of survey responses.

So I foresee this on my list of regular rereads. But for now, if you are in sales, or in a leadership role in a company and are wondering how to improve your sales team, read this now.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust BowlThe Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was out of my mind for the last third of this book. Basically, I listened to it during an extended work trip and between the daily around the clock schedule, the jet lag of international travel, and my ongoing marathon training plan I was struggling to say the least. I wonder if this helped me to relate to those struggles outlined in the book? No, I don't think so. My saving grace was that the whole experience was lubricated by ever-flowing Mtn Dew. Yes, someday I will pay the price for this.

About the book: This was an interesting read that was part history, part drama, and part instruction manual. While I had heard about the Dust Bowl crisis in a classroom years earlier, this was the most in-depth look I have had of the whole situation. No, I have not read the Grapes of Wrath, or any other such drama-heavy versions of the time period. The Wizard of Oz conjured up the closest related literary experience in my memory, but was not a great parallel based on the number of Munchkins and witches involved. Those people lived in a tough time, no bones about it, and the lessons in human nature, government intervention and respect for nature abound in their stories.

Why this is just a 3-star book for me: While the stories were fascinating, I don't know that I appreciated the delivery. The writing was fantastical, using language that I felt inflated each moment in an effort to wring the drama out of the story. Yes, the times were tough. People died. It was awful. But the narrative felt like it was trying to convince me that this was the worst thing that had ever happened on the face of the earth. The title even claims it. Really? The worst ever? There are millennia of bad times, tough situations, both man made and natural in this comparison. Were invading troops of nomads sacrificing humans and eating babies? Were people caught in earthquakes that swallowed up loved ones whole, never to be seen again?

Yes, these were hard times, but there is a universal truth that is ignored when a story is approached like this: someone always has it worse than you. Especially when you take on all of human history. The atrocities we know of are heart wrenching. There are probably so many more that we are blessed to NOT know about. How can we say that one time, or one challenge is the worst? Why should we portray any one event in so fantastic a light that it is labeled as the "worst"? Don't we each have a "worst" time in our lives, and while it may not objectively measure up with history's standards, it will be the most real for me. And this is not just the claim on the cover, it is the tone that pervades the entire book. So while the story was interesting, I was continually rubbed raw by this point throughout the book. It was like millions of tiny particles of sand by endlessly thrown against my eardrums until the only thing I could hear was the pleading of my mind for surrender from the drama (see what I did there? Pretty annoying, right?)

So, give over. Let this awful time be an awful time, not the worst time. Let these stories of brave, although in some instances foolish, men and women carry their own weight. Don't embellish or try to paint the scene with your own palette of emotions. I'll get it when I hear the story. Don't use flowery language to tell me the story. Show me the story, and as a feeling human being, I'll experience the emotion on my own.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was both captivating and frustrating, and in the end I'm left somewhat disappointed. I decided to read this on a long flight where a more studious choice would not have made the time pass as quickly. I needed a story that captured my imagination and let me escape for at least 11 hours, and this book was just that. I was pulled into a well written fantasy with a great setting, diverse cast of characters, and deep magic system. It was the page turner I needed.

While it did fill that role, it also had its weaknesses, and as I continued to read the pile of weaknesses began to look more like a mountain. Somehow, in the midst of great characterization and intriguing plot twists, this book became focused on sex. It came out of the blue and hijacked a great story. I can't recommend this book to my 14 year-old read-aholic son now. I hate that.

Second, while I was eager to find out what Kvothe would do next, this page-turner was also a sleeper at times. The reader is left on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next while chapter after chapter rolls by. It was really odd. I still consider it well written, but it also felt like it took forever. Perhaps it is the fact that the story being told is in past tense that snaps back to the present now and then. The inner story processes around year in time, while the telling of the story only moves a day. I guess that the tension adds to the overall suspense of the story, but so little movement happened in this book that I don't feel I got my money's worth. And when I say money, I mean time.

Finally, Kvothe's relationship with Denna makes no sense. Their relationship didn't develop, and after the experiences he had there is no way that it would still be in the same state. Either the commitment level would increase, or at least one of them would be moving on. Maybe it worked when they were both young and innocent, but the innocence is gone for both of them, so something's gotta give.